Ask any biker what he loves most about riding a motorcycle, and you often get a single-word answer: freedom. Bikers cherish the ability to travel anywhere, at any time, over vast distances and with extraordinary agility. Sometimes they ride with great purpose; other times they do it for sheer joy.
Bikers, it turns out, are a lot like killer whales.
Now a new group, Bikers 4 Orcas, has arisen with the goal of returning captive whales back to their native waters. The group was created a few weeks ago by Vincent Lensen, a 36-year-old father from Holland, and some of his motorcyclist friends, and is already growing, spreading among motorcycle groups in Europe and beyond. So far, more than 600 people have liked the Bikers 4 Orcas Facebook page.
"A breeze of wind on your skin, a wide world in front of you, and the ability to go wherever you want," the page states. "Bikers also experience this in a group, a club or a gathering, like a pack of wolves, or a pod of orcas."
Watching orcas "makes you realize that us bikers are not really that different," Lensen says. "We enjoy our freedom and understand others enjoy this too. In a lot of countries, bikers greet each other. It's a social way of showing we understand what the other is experiencing."
Getting sometimes rough-and-tumble bikers interested in saving whales, "is not so hard," Lensen says. "If one person can link bikers and orcas to each other, it works as a snowball effect. If you explain to people, including non-bikers, the suffering these animals go through, and show them pictures of a captive orca being bullied and attacked by others, and tell them how social and intelligent these creatures are, most people will support you."
Lensen knows that a gang of bikers roaring down the highway gets noticed. "When I'm out on my motorcycle, many stop and stare when hearing the sound of a rumbling engine," he says. "This, I feel, can be to put to good use to get attention from others on the captivity subject. It's a heavenly start to one hell of a ride."
So how did a biker become a whale activist? "It leads back to my youth," he says. "As a young boy I visited the Dolfinarium in Holland, and there was a black-and-white animal there that mesmerized me. Her name was Gudrun, and on that day for the first time, I learned about the existence of orcas. She was transferred to SeaWorld not much later."
Then, about two years ago, Lensen saw a story about a young orca in poor health rescued off the Dutch coast. Given the name Morgan, she was first placed in a Dutch aquarium, and eventually sent to Loro Parque, a theme park in the Canary Islands.
"Seeing Morgan brought back the feelings I had all those years ago," Lensen explains. "I decided it would be educational for my kids to see such a beautiful creature, so we went." It was packed, and it took time before they got near to Morgan.
"Everyone tried to get closer to the tank and stare at this pretty creature, but Morgan was having none of it and refused to come closer," Lensen recalls. "When it was our turn, for some reason, she swam right up to me and looked at me."
But the rush of excitement Lensen experienced as young boy did not materialize. "Something in her look broke my heart," he says. "She looked sad, and I felt really bad for her."
After realizing Morgan needed freedom and the ocean, not tourists and a tank, Lensen began reading up on killer whales. He came across "many stories about them being in poor conditions, and used for entertainment in marine parks. I wanted to do something, something new, something that may help to get these animals out of those parks. For a long time I kept wondering and asking myself, 'What can I do?' Well, I could ride a motorbike! That is basically how it all started."
Now Bikers 4 Orcas seek to raise awareness and win freedom, not only for Morgan, but also for Lolita, a wild-caught whale that spent the last 42 years of her lonely life in a miniscule pool at the Miami Seaquarium; and for Corky, a wild-caught whale at SeaWorld San Diego; and for Kshamenk, another wild-caught orca held captive in Argentina. TakePart has written about Morgan and Lolita in the past. The group also wants to see all captive-bred orcas retired and sent to enclosed sea sanctuaries.
"Lolita's story struck me as she lives in such a small tank. Seeing her documentary, Lolita: Slave To Entertainment, got me even more upset," Lensen says. "Morgan of course was the one that started it for me. Her being captured in Holland made me want to try even harder, as I felt some sort of guilt that the Dutch government let her be moved to Tenerife."
A plan of action is underway. First comes promotion. "We want people to know us and share our Facebook page," Lensen says. "The next thing is to get people involved, which seems harder than it is."
Step three is "educating others about orcas and our goal. We have flyers in several languages to hand out. We try to think of all ways to get the story out, including coloring sheets for kids to color, sign and send to marine parks." They are also contacting media and "sending emails to any orca related company and biker club we can find."
The end goal is "a massive worldwide protest ride, where all bikers supporting us join up in each country and drive for charity on the same day," Lensen says. "It would be amazing to turn on the TV and watch groups of bikers all doing the same thing at the same time. I think it will wake up some marine parks and politicians."
Plans are afoot to pass out leaflets at showings of the hit documentary Blackfish next month, while a major "Ride for Morgan" will take place when her case comes up again in court.
For now, the group seeks a "pod leader" and head of promotion for each country, "someone willing to promote our group to clubs, media, online and anywhere else."
Lensen knows that many people disdain biker culture. But he adds, "We are not different from others in the way we think, feel and experience things. Bikers often get a bad reputation through some of them behaving badly, but I can assure that the majority is not like that."
Still, Lensen is careful about which groups he approaches. "I know some biker clubs have a bad reputation, and we might end up inviting the wrong people," he acknowledges. "We want a peaceful protest, not something that could end up in a bar fight."
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